Interest rates have begun inching up -- and are likely to continue doing so. That's why it's a good time to ink a new mortgage at favorable rates, or to refinance an existing loan. If you're not convinced, here are three reasons you might want to refinance your mortgage.

What is refinancing?

Refinancing is when you essentially trade in your current mortgage for a newer one -- ideally one with more attractive terms. The first loan gets paid off by the new one.

A pencil on a paper on which is typed "refinancing" plus some words related to it, like "new transaction"

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The main reason that most folks refinance a mortgage is to take advantage of a lower interest rate and thereby end up with smaller monthly payments. But that's not the only possible reason. You might refinance a 30-year loan into a 15-year one, ending up with larger payments, but fewer of them and less total interest to pay. Here's a review of these and other reasons to refinance your home loan.

Interest rates are rising, so lock in a lower rate to save money

Everyone knows that lower interest rates mean lower payments, but many people might not realize just how much of a difference a lower rate can make. Check out the table below, reflecting payments for various interest rates for a $200,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:

Interest Rate

Monthly Payment

Annual Cost

Cost Over 30 Years

3.5%

$898

$10,776

$323,280

4%

$955

$11,460

$343,800

4.5%

$1,013

$12,156

$364,468

5%

$1,074

$12,888

$386,640

5.5%

$1,136

$13,632

$408,960

6.00%

$1,199

$14,388

$431,640

Data source: Bankrate.com, plus calculations by author.

If you can lock in an interest rate that's a percentage point lower than what you have, you may be able to save $40,000 or so over 30 years. (Note that when you go through the pre-approval process, you can probably find out exactly how much you can save.)

Your credit score has improved

If your credit score has improved considerably in recent years, you may now qualify for a significantly lower mortgage interest rate -- even if overall rates have been rising. Low credit scores keep home buyers from being offered great interest rates. Check out the table below, which shows what a difference a strong credit score can make, using the same mortgage example as above:

FICO Score

APR

Monthly Payment

Total Interest Paid

760-850

3.879%

$941

$138,735

700-759

4.101%

$967

$147,945

680-699

4.278%

$987

$155,378

660-679

4.492%

$1,012

$164,471

640-659

4.922%

$1,064

$183,087

620-639

5.468%

$1,132

$207,364

Data source: MyFICO.com, as of mid-February 2017.

If you're currently carrying a mortgage at a high rate, consider spending the next few months or the year ahead increasing your credit score so that you might refinance at a lower rate. Some ways to improve your credit score include paying bills on time and paying off a lot of debt in order to lower your debt-to-available-credit ratio. Lenders like to see you owing only about 10% to 30% of the sum of all your credit limits, because it suggests that you have your debt under control and can afford to take on some more debt via the mortgage you're seeking. You can get free copies of your credit reports once a year from each of the main credit reporting agencies -- do so and correct any errors on them.

A southern house, with Spanish moss around

Image source: Pixabay.

You might want a different kind of mortgage

Another good reason to refinance is if a different kind of mortgage makes sense for you now. For example, if you started out with an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), you may be facing gradually increasing interest rates over the coming years -- which will be costing you more and more. You could refinance into a fixed-rate loan, locking in a low rate. (Even today's increased rates are historically very low.)

Alternatively, you might switch from a 30-year fixed-rate loan into a 15-year fixed-rate loan, in order to pay the loan off sooner and pay much less in interest. It will likely entail higher monthly payments, though, so be sure you can swing those. (A good alternative is to keep the 30-year loan and just make extra payments regularly, in order to shrink the principal.) If your current loan's monthly payments are too steep for you (which might be the case if you have a 15-year mortgage now), you might refinance into a fresh 30-year loan for the lower payments. Just know that that will be costing you a lot in interest over the long run, and entering retirement with mortgage payments is not ideal.

a signpost with one sign saying yes and one saying no, pointing in opposite directions

Image source: Pixabay.

When refinancing is not a great idea

There are some situations in which refinancing doesn't make the most sense. For example:

  • If you don't think you'll stay in your home long enough to recoup the closing costs for the refinancing (yes, there are closing costs – the process is very much like getting your initial mortgage), then don't refinance. If your closing costs are $2,500 and you'll be enjoying monthly payments that are $100 lower, then it will take you 25 months to break even so that the refinancing was worth it.
  • If you won't be able to reduce your loan's interest rate by about 1 percentage point, a general rule of thumb suggests that going through the trouble of refinancing may not be worth it.
  • If you're refinancing in order to take out some of your home equity, think twice. You'll often end up with a bigger loan balance than you had before refinancing, and less equity in your home, too. In exchange for that, you did receive a chunk of change, but if you used it to remodel a kitchen or buy a new car, you probably won't come out ahead, financially. The car will start depreciating immediately, and most remodeling costs more than any increase in value when you sell the home. Only cash out if you really need the money. Every dollar you borrow with your mortgage will likely take a long time to get paid off, costing a lot in interest.
  • If you're refinancing in order to consolidate debt, perhaps because you'd like to pay off high-interest rate credit card debt with low-interest mortgage debt, think twice. It can be an effective strategy, but if you're saddled with credit card debt because you tend to spend beyond your means, then you're not likely to suddenly change your ways. You'll instead be taking on more long-term debt, while feeling unburdened by credit card debt and perhaps feeling freer to spend beyond your means again.

Think your situation through to see if refinancing is a smart move for you. It is for many people, potentially saving them tens of thousands of dollars.

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